Arviat offers an authentic Inuit experience to Nunavut tourists
Polar bears and culture draw visitors to Arviat
ARVIAT — Two women giggle as they watch two Inuit elders in traditional amautiit climb aboard an all-terrain-vehicle and drive off into the night.
But for Luise and Micheala, it also confirms why they chose Arviat as their destination.
The two German women have travelled throughout Europe, through South America and to Australia. When they were planning this year’s trip, they looked to Canada, but decided they wanted to see something they’d never seen before.
And they did. In an action-packed two-day visit, the women ate a caribou dinner, sat in on a throat singing and drum dancing performance, and saw eight polar bears up close, including a mother with her cubs.
“It was just amazing,” said Luise, who didn’t want to share her last name.
“When we came we thought it would be the end of the world here, but it’s amazing to find so much up here,” she said. “I really like how they keep their culture alive, that everyone still goes hunting and makes their own clothes.”
It’s that impression of Arctic authenticity that travel firm G Adventures honed when they designed the two to four-day package, combining polar bear watching with a taste of local culture.
While Inuit culture and polar bears abound in Arviat, it doesn’t mean bringing in tourists was easy.
When the hamlet hired its first tourism coordinator in 2011, Olivia Tagalik said she hardly knew what tourism was as a product.
Since then, she’s grown a circle of local people to help share what they do in their community — throat singers, artists, hunters — while training others in hospitality.
“A lot of what we’ve been seeing is that Arviat has a very unique and strong culture, and that’s what draws a lot of people here,” she said from her office overlooking Hudson Bay. “And people here are willing to share our culture, so that’s a big thing — showing them that Inuit culture is very alive today.”
As far as Arctic destinations go, Arviat is also among the most accessible in the country, adding to the community’s tourism slogan “Canada’s accessible Arctic.”
Many of Arviat’s “tourist attractions” are planned: trips to historical sites, traditional entertainment or boat excursions in the summer months.
But Tagalik said much of it is natural and spontaneous too, such as seeing a carver at work outside his home, or children cleaning seal skins with their parents.
Visitors who want to see polar bears will go out with a guide on an ATV or snowmobile. They can also stop at a heated cabin protected by an electric fence.
With an increase in polar bears in and around Arviat over the last decade, wildlife tourism is a natural fit, while the community looks to Canada’s polar bear capital, Churchill, Manitoba.
“Competing with Churchill would be next to impossible — they’ve been doing it forever and they do it well,” Tagalik said. “What we’re trying to showcase is Inuit culture first.”
But Tagalik has still worked to create a partnership with operators in Churchill, calling it a “great benefit to the community.”
With a couple of hotels and one dining room, Arviat’s tourist infrastructure is still modest from a tourism operator’s perspective, but Tagalik said this will change over time.
“The community has been growing pretty steadily, and with that, you get more infrastructure,” she said, pointing to a new store opening in town and hotel room upgrades.
“It’s a long process but it’s starting.”